Apologies to anyone who tried to get a coherent conversation out of me during November – it was such a busy month, I’ve practically crawled into December. In my mental fog, I forgot to buy an Advent calendar, which in hindsight is a good thing, as I’ve not got the strength to open the doors without the help of two burly men.
I spent the thirty days writing fifty thousand words for National Novel Writing Month, known affectionately as NaNoWriMo.
I’ve not tackled such a huge output of words since I wrote a dissertation for my degree, but in many ways this felt tougher. Academic work is structured around a question; this project was fired purely by my imagination.
Each day in November I had to commit to write. After years of talking about writing, and reading about writing, I suddenly had to start writing. It felt weird to break through that wall between thinking and doing, and be in the process of churning out the words.
Bizarrely the thing that prepared me best for the slog at my desk, was my running. When I first started out, I followed a running app. It made me commit to three sessions a week and build up from running 30 seconds at a time, to a full 35 minute run which covered about five kilometres.
Like writing, I had imagined being a runner for a really really long time before I actually got going. In my mind’s eye I would be a fluid, poised, gazelle of a runner – clad in stylish Sweaty Betty gear. The reality was a red faced, sweaty carthorse wearing a mish mash of sports kit I’d acquired from short stints of gym-going. I was still covering the ground, but maybe not in the way I had envisioned.
One of the best bits of advice when I struggled in those early days of pounding the pavements was ‘just keep putting one foot in front of the other’ – in essence, don’t worry about how fast/how stylish/how far: just get it done. I adopted the same approach each time I took to my keyboard. I wrote the words with little regard for whether they were any good, I just concentrated on getting one word down after another. I can always tweak it all later – as my mate Pete kept telling me: ‘you can’t edit no words’.
When you run regularly you soon realise that how you start is not necessarily how you finish. I’ve sometimes been five minutes into it and honestly thought I wasn’t going to get to the end of the road; it is then you have to dig deep and push on. Weirdly those runs can end up being the best ones – and for me at least, it was often that way with the writing. I would be struggling during the first few hundred words and then suddenly hit a rhythm and quickly crank out a couple of thousand words.
What running has also given me is a real delight in surprising myself. I’ve never stuck at any exercise regime for longer than a couple of months – but two years on, I still manage to get out there and clock up 5K. It helped me when I was tearful and doubting my ability to get to the end, to remind myself that I am quite capable of hanging on in there and getting it done.
Despite hitting the word tally I’ve not completed a novel, so the challenge continues but at a much slower pace. The relief at hitting the fifty thousand benchmark was glorious though, and it made me realise I can do a full day’s work and then find time to write in the evenings and at weekends. A real step forward.